On Writing

Tips for Finding a Professional Book Editor

My past several blog posts offer a guide to beginning writers to steer them away from making the mistakes I’ve made on my journey. Aside from grammar mistakes, my biggest mistakes, and also my most expensive ones, dealt with finding an outstanding editor.

There is much information on the web telling writers how to find a professional book editor, but not much information on what you might encounter once you have selected one.

I have been self-publishing since 2014 and have sampled several types of editors. They are not all created equal, nor are their editing practices similar.

I hope that by sharing my experience, you can avoid some of my pitfalls and find your one true god-editor. God, you question? Believe me when you find the right one—the one who merges with your style of writing—you will consider her/him/them a god.

No Money

I know some of you are going, “Pssah, I don’t need a professional editor. I have my spouse…” Or BBF, or ninety-year-old grandma who used to teach English. Most successful writers will argue with your premise.

TIP # 1:To be a professional writer, one must do what it takes to be a professional. And that means hiring a professional editor.

Gone are the days when a writer sends in her/his/their manuscript, gets picked up by one of the publishing houses, and they edit the manuscript in house as part of the deal.

TIP #2: Today, it’s advisable to NOT send a manuscript to a publisher or agent UNLESS you have scrubbed it clean of errors. And this holds doubly true for self-publishing. Nothing will cause you to lose fans faster than an eBook loaded with unforgivable errors. (I know, I did one. And I’m still trying to clean up the ramifications.)

I—being a self-diagnosed, mild dyslexic who mixes up b’s and d’s, can’t spell worth a darn, and still has trouble knowing when to use a comma—decided after my first published fiasco that I definitely needed a professional editor.

TIP # 3: For those of you who say, “I don’t have the money.” I promise you that when you find the right editor, you will learn so much from her/his/their first edit. It’s the equivalent to an entire semester in college. And definitely more constructive than any writing workshop offered. Because the editor focuses on your work, noting your mistakes, and correcting your style.

I can’t stress enough how much you will grow as a writer with your first professional edit—even if it’s a bad edit.

My Editors

Editor #1: Big House

I shoulder the brunt of this mistake. It was my ignorance. Big House offers several types of edits. Being a newbie, I thought an edit was an edit is an edit. I was wrong. There are line edits, copy edits, proofreading edits, and things called developmental edits, or Big House calls them annotations. (I’ve listed types of edits below.)

I opted for the annotation, thinking that since it was the most expensive, it included the other edits. After spending $1,800, I found out that an annotation/developmental edit only informs you of all the things you’ve done wrong in your plot and character development. That is all it does.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I believe basically anyone can pick out stuff that doesn’t work in even the most popular books, movies, and TV series. Just look online at reviews. One person loves it, and another thinks it’s the worst thing they have ever read or watched.

I am very good at reading a book or watching a movie and telling my husband or kids all the things that were done wrong and how it could’ve been better. They now refuse to watch movies with me.

I do not recommend sending your work to an editor for a developmental edit. If you have a story that works for you, there is no need to send it to someone who you’ve paid to find something wrong with it, because they will.

The Big House stuck me with an editor who was new to the organization. I just checked, and she is no longer employed at the Big House.

TIP #4: If you go with a Big House, ask for the editor with the most experience, or at least one with some experience.

Editor #2: The Angel

Second edit, I found my angel. Had I not, my writing career may have ended.

The Angel did a thorough editing job, offered developmental suggestions, and character analyses plus positive feedback and encouraging remarks all for the low price of $0.009 a word which—for a 35,000 word manuscript—came to $315, half up front and the rest upon completion.

She did everything for $315!

The Big House charged $0.012/word for just the developmental suggestions, and then another $0.016/word for any other editing needed.

The Angel also offered a trial edit to see if we were a match. Something I highly recommend before signing on with an editor.

At The Angel’s price, I could afford to edit it using her suggestions and then send it back to her for a final once over before publishing. She discounted the final edit to $0.008/word.

Then why did I go to Editor #3? The Angel is an established published author and film producer. Simply put, she got busy. The last edit she did for me took two months and when she returned it she explained her track changes weren’t working, so I needed to spell check all words, again.

(Eyes roll into the top of my head.)

And that is why she is merely The Angel and not a god.

TIP #5: Ask the editor what they include in their edit. Then ask she/he/them to do a trial edit.

Editor #3: WTF

I did a trial edit with WTF. She found errors—or rather things she considered errors (WARNING: no two editors identify the same grammatical mistakes.) —that The Angel did not mark.

WTF charged a flat rate of $525 for the job. The Angel charged $315 for the same job. Both asked for half up front and the rest upon completion.

I thought I’d covered all my bases until she returned the edit and that’s when WTF recycled again and again through my brain as I tried to make heads or tails of her edit.

It was color coded.

  • I had to have a two-page editing key to follow the color codes and all this editor’s random abbreviations like: A for awkward, R for redundant, T for Thesaurus, U for Usage, CS for complete sentence, SAP for same as previous, SF for Sentence Fragment.
  • Things marked in smoky blue = any comments made previously. Bright rose= comments and suggestions. Real teal = changes or additions that need to be made.
  • This editor highlighted every: was, were, had, look, looked, realized, wondered, thought, said, asked, laughed, nodded head, shook his/her head, walked, ran, shouted, yelled, only, back, very in my manuscript regardless of context.
    That is not what I call editing. That is what I call using Microsoft Office’s Find feature and highlighting all the words the entire universe uses to express themselves.

But I tried to make it work. I paid for it, right? So I’m editing—trying to sort through the labyrinth of colors and codes—wait, is that smokey blue or real teal?


Took me all summer to labor through her editing nightmare. It was like wading through quicksand, and the more I struggled, the deeper I sank. The sad thing—much of what she suggested was right on, but a simple note saying: check how many times you use the word was, would have been sufficient instead of highlighting every freaking time I used the past tense verb.

Sample of WTF Edit

she looked R back at her lab partners Joe and Harvey and shouted R to the entire class a line from the movie: delete colon, insert comma “‘What we have Clara, I think that the real quote may be we’ve got ~ you may wish to satisfy yourself that the quote here is accurate.

“Well, for one thing insert comma I am verysuspicious of that old lady. She seems to be hiding a secret. She’s not human. Always touching dead stuff and things, and enjoying it. And I am highly suspicious of the solution the eyeball is floating around in.” She could tell that Di Noze wasn’tbuying it insert comma so she added R, T , delete comma, insert period CS Look R
TIP # 6:  Most professional editors use track changes in a Microsoft Word Doc for editing your manuscript, not the WTF way above.

Editor #4

The I-Don’t-Give-a-Crap editor pretty much says it all. I asked for a copyedit. (After all, this was my third professional edit on Sparkers, novella 3 of my The Creep Mesquite Anthology.) She found a few mistakes WTF had missed. If you can call them mistakes, I think it’s more editor’s preference.


  • I want to go too. (This is correct according to WTF.)
  • I want to go, too. (This is correct according to IDGAC and The Angel.)

Star Trek GIF - Star Trek Tng GIFs

IDGAC returned my manuscript and an invoice. That was all. No, thanks for sharing. Or, hope we can work together on future projects. No positive feedback of any kind. The edit was easy, but I noticed things she marked as errors that were not. And things she failed to mark.

TIP to editors: If you want repeat clients, offer a few words of encouragement.


  • Do a trial edit before committing.
  • Pay per word instead of a flat rate. (Sometimes this is not an option. But try.) Reedsy, an online author service based in London charges by the page. Based on a 60,000 word manuscript, you might be charged for a: Developmental editing — $1,400 or about $7 per page. Copy editing — $1,000 or about $5 per page. Proofreading — $700 or about $3 per page. (Note: I haven’t used Reedsy, but I might on a future edit. I’ll let you know how it goes.)
  • Pay half upfront. Final payment upon completion.
  • Go with a competent individual rather than a Big House.
  • Look for professional editors who are also writers. They know the problems. (WTF was not a writer. It showed.)
  • Try to find an editor who reads/likes your genre. (WTF had no idea about science fiction.) A place to look is Publishers Marketplace. Click on search members in the menu on the left. Some say try UpWork to find an editor. And as I mentioned above, Reedsy is an author service also.  I found my illustrator on Elance (now UpWork). He is amazing, but I haven’t tried out any of the editors on UpWork. I am fearful that most of them are technical editors rather than book editors. (WTF I found on Linkedin.)
  • If you like your story, don’t sign on for a developmental edit/annotation. They will find something wrong with it, you paid them to, and so they will, no matter how good it is.
  • If you go with a Big House, ask for one of their more experienced editors, one who has been with them for a fair amount of time.
  • Realize that with three different editors you will get three different opinions. None of the them will agree even on the smallest grammatical glitches. Sometimes you just have to go with what feels right to you and creates prose that flows.
  • Look for an editor who offers advice on plot and character development with her edit as well as correcting mechanical and grammatical errors. Look for an all-in-one type of editor, a general practitioner as opposed to a specialist.


FYI—Types of Edits

Developmental Editing  (also known as annotation)

This type of edit refers to a “big picture” analysis 

The editor will return an annotated manuscript, a marked-up version of the original manuscript with specific suggestions for each issue, as well as an editorial report. 

It is an initial critique, for developmental editing and revision guidance, or to push a near-final draft to the finish line.

2. Substantive Editing

Improving a manuscript in any or all of the following ways:

  • identifying and solving problems of overall clarity or accuracy
  • reorganizing paragraphs, sections, or chapters to improve the order in which the text is presented
  • writing or rewriting segments of text to improve readability and flow of information
  • revising any or all aspects of the text to improve its presentation
  • consulting with others about issues of concern
  • incorporating responses to queries and suggestions creating a new draft of the document

3. Copyediting (Sometimes interchangeable with line editing. Line editing, however, is more precise some sources say.)

Any or all of the following:

  • correcting spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax, and word usage while preserving the meaning and voice of the original text
  • checking for or imposing a consistent style and format
  • preparing a style sheet that documents style and format
  • reading for overall clarity and sense on behalf of the prospective audience
  • querying the appropriate party about apparent errors or inconsistencies
  • noting permissions needed to publish copyrighted material
  • preparing a manuscript for the next stage of the publication process
  • cross-checking references, art, figures, tables, equations, and other features for consistency with their mentions in the text

4. Proofreading 

  • comparing the latest stage of text with the preceding stage
  • marking discrepancies in text
  • checking for problems in page makeup, layout, color separation, or type.

Proofreading may also include one or more of the following:

  • checking proof against typesetting specifications
  • querying or correcting errors or inconsistencies that may have escaped an editor or writer
  • reading for typographical errors or for sense without reading against copy

 TIP # 7 :Before hiring an editor, find out what type of edit they are offering you. Sometimes they are as confused as you. If they are, find someone else.


After my tribulations with editors, I found an awesome editor who also became my friend. She did it all: annotation, copyediting, proofreading, and positive criticism and support all for a reasonable price. She even recommended my novellas to several people. But then she took an editing course and I’m not sure what happened, but all the support stopped. 

I was left asking myself, what did I do wrong?

When I asked her what was up, she said her instructor told her not to get personally involved with clients. And definitely not to offer any type of opinion. The final edit I did with her, she doubled her fee and I later found several mistakes she’d failed to catch. 

My editor now does a great job of copyediting, but offers nothing in the way of positive criticism. I guess that’s how they are taught to do it to avoid complications. I find this sad, however. It would be nice to have a working relationship with my editor. Nice that she knew me and my style of writing. 

Editing services seem to have become like emergency clinics. They get you in and out, never really caring. Best of luck finding your god-like editor. 

If you’ve had an evil and/or godly editing experience, please share. I love hearing from you
Clara Bush
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